Playoff Expansion Comes at a Cost For Several Group of Five Teams

The new 12-team Playoff format is here to stay and soon we must bid farewell to one of the most exciting weekends for the Group of Five

The Los Angeles Bowl has been on ABC in both of its years of existence
Source: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Trivia time. What was the most-watched non-New Year’s Six bowl involving a Group of Five team during the 2021 season? If you guessed the Independence Bowl clash between BYU and UAB on December 18th, you would be correct. The back-and-forth affair between the Blazers and Cougars drew 3.24 million viewers and a 1.9 rating, outdrawing all-Power Five bowls such as the Pinstripe Bowl (MD-VT) & Cactus Bowl (WV-Minnesota).

In third place non-New Year’s Six bowls involving a Group of Five team behind the Independence Bowl and the Gasparilla Bowl (UCF-Florida) was the LA Bowl, played right after the Independence Bowl. The LA Bowl drew a respectable viewership of 2.892 million and 1.7 for the matchup between Utah State and Oregon State.

What did these two bowls have in common? They were both broadcast on ABC on the opening Saturday of Bowl Season. The 2021 Independence Bowl took the 3:30 ET slot, while the LA Bowl was the nightcap at 7:30 ET. These games provided rare network TV appearances for schools like UAB and Utah State, as UAB made its first appearance on network TV ever, and Utah State made only its fifth appearance on network TV since 1979.

As most of the sports world knows, the College Football Playoff released its schedule and format for the 2024 and 2025 seasons, the first two years of the 12-team field. The four first-round games would occur on the third weekend of December, normally the start of bowl season. It is reasonable to assume that not only will these first-round games be on ABC, but there will be no bowls to compete with them.

This is certainly a blow for a lot of the Group of Five. Even though the New Year’s Six and now the 12-team Playoff is the crowning achievement for those conferences, ABC’s opening weekend bowls were a worthy consolation for schools that did not get the New Year’s Six berth.

In 2019, Florida Atlantic played on ABC against SMU in the 2019 Boca Raton Bowl at 3:30 ET, following that year’s Celebration Bowl on the network. It was only FAU’s third appearance on network TV in their young history and the Owls benefited immensely, drawing 1.99 million viewers and a 1.3 TV rating, drawing over 500,000 more viewers than their 2018 appearance on Fox against Oklahoma.

Immediately following the 2019 Boca Raton Bowl, ABC aired the Las Vegas Bowl between Boise State and Washington as the nightcap, drawing a 1.6 rating and 2.64 million viewers. This was more than five all-Power Five bowl games including the 2019 RedBox Bowl which aired on Fox.

Fast forward to December 17, 2022, and the Los Angeles Bowl once again drew respectable ratings with a 1.3 rating and 1.99 million viewers in the 3:30 ET time slot for its Fresno State-Washington State matchup. Afterward, the New Mexico Bowl, thanks to the Las Vegas Raiders, got its first-ever primetime time and network TV slot and delivered a 1.2 TV rating and 2.04 million viewers on 7:30 ET on ABC with an SMU-BYU matchup.

But, out with the old, and in with the new as they say. The 12-team Playoff is here to stay and will do better to draw in casual college football fans than the Los Angeles Bowl or New Mexico Bowl ever could, whether Group of Five enthusiasts like myself would like to admit it or not.

Long story short, the opening Saturday of bowl season allowed more than one Group of Five team to bask in the spotlight. While the Group of Five has a guaranteed spot in the playoff, something that is long-overdue, it is sad to see multiple unfamiliar faces in the Group of Five not get network TV exposure from an ABC appearance.

Huge thanks to for the TV ratings numbers. This site is a must visit for college football fans.